Saturday, June 29, 2013

Allan Dwan: Beginnings - The One-Reel Westerns

Allan Dwan: Le origini - I western da un rullo. Introduce Dave Kehr, curatore della rassegna. Accompagnamento al piano di Maud Nelissen. Cinema Jolly (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna), 29 June 2013

Dave Kehr: "Allan Dwan's homeric career as a director began by accident in 1911, when, as a 26-year-old scenario writer and production manager, he was sent by the American Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago to work with the company's Western unit in California. Dwan  found the unit's cast and crew sitting idle in San Juan Capistrano, abandoned by a director who had run off for a drinking binge in Los Angeles. As Dwan told Peter Bogdanovich (the anecdote would later serve as the premise for Bogdanovich's 1976 Nickelodeon), "So I got the actors together and said, 'Now either I'm the director or you're out of work. And they said, 'You're the best damn director we ever saw. You're great.' I said, 'What do I do? What does a director do?' So they took me out and showed me. And it worked".The one-reel Westerns in this program, all preserved by the Library of Congress, date from Dwan's first two years of frenetic activity, during which he averaged two films a week. Working with a small stock company - hero (J. Warren Kerrigan), heroine (Pauline Bush - later to become the first Mrs. Dwan) and heavy (Jack Richardson), Dwan can be seen quickly mastering the new medium, as he moves from uncertain framing (The Ranch Girl) and intertitles that helpfully summarize the action we are about to see (The Blackened Hills) to a metaphorical use of landscape (Maiden and Men), confident pictorial effects (Man's Calling) and psychologically complex characters (The Thief's Wife). Major themes begin to emerge as well, with Bush as the first representative of Dwan's distinctively self-reliant women, whose unshakeable confidence in matters erotic and romantic is played in contrast to convoluted, intergenerational conflicts among the male characters." Dave Kehr

AA: In his introduction Dave Kehr took note of the current year 2013 as a remarkable one in the Allan Dwan studies. Besides Bologna, there is a retrospective going on at the MoMA. Frederic Lombardi's book Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios (2013) was published earlier this year. David Phelps and Gina Telaroli have published online and free of charge Allan Dwan (A Dossier) (2013) in the Spanish Lumière series. Dave Kehr pointed out that in the five one-reelers to be screened we can observe some very dramatic development in matters of portraying a character, lighting, and framing. "We'll see the beginning of a 50 year journey which continues without a break during the classical era of Hollywood, continually surprising, always finding new solutions to the same problems" (Dave Kehr).

THE RANCH GIRL. US 1911. D: Allan Dwan. 9'. C: J. Warren Kerrigan (Jack), Pauline Bush (Alice), Jack Richardson (Mike). PC: American FilmManufacturing Company. Premiere: 10 agosto 1911. 35 mm. 193 m. 9'. a 18 f/s. B&w. English intertitles. Da: Library of Congress. - AA: Alice is the ranch owner and also an expert markswoman who demonstrates her gun prowess to warn the new foreman. The strong woman (qf. Barbara Stanwyck as The Cattle Queen of Montana) appears right in the beginning. There is stark cowboy authenticity in this extremely simple, bare-bones Western. Print quality: main title card missing, rain, high contrast.

BLACKENED HILLS. US 1912. D: Allan Dwan. 9'. C: J. Warren Kerrigan (Jack Upham), Jessalyn Van Trump (Martha Vail), Jack Richardson (Joe Canfield), Louise Lester (la strega), Charlotte Burton (Jenny Hart). PC: American Film Manufacturing Company. Premiere: 26 dicembre 1912. 35 mm. 191 m (incompleto). 9' a 18 f/s. B&w. English intertitles. Da: Library of Congress. - AA: The story of an evil hearted woman and a kind hearted man. Visual quality: from a source with heavy damage to the point that the image disappears entirely at times.

MAIDEN AND MEN. US 1912. D: Allan Dwan. 13'. C: Pauline Bush (la ragazza), Jack Richardson (il cattivo del ranch), J.Warren Kerrigan (lo spasimante deluso), Louise Lester (la proprietaria del ranch), George Periolat (il padre). PC: American Film Manufacturing Company. Premiere: 4novembre 1912. 35 mm. 283 m. 13'.a 18 f/s. B&w. English intertitles. Da: Library of Congress. - AA: Melancholy passages about the solitude of a daughter yearning for love, keeping her secret treasure, a romantic novel, well hidden. She receives "a job of slavery on a distant ranch". The men all stare at the sole woman there. There is a constant wind. The mood is strikingly downbeat. The visual quality is now more satisfactory.

MAN'S CALLING / Almost a Friar [the on-screen title]. US 1912. D: Allan Dwan. 13'. Almost a Friar. C: J. Warren Kerrigan (John Wallace), Jessalyn Van Trump (Mrs. Wallace), George Periolat (il padre di John). PC: American Film Manufacturing Company. Premiere: 11 novembre 1912. 35 mm. 272 m. 13'a 18 f/s. B&w. English intertitles. Da: Library of Congress. - AA: The son of a deeply religious father is about to join the brotherhood of monks. At the gate he sees "the little baker of the mission". The next morning he asks her mother for work. "The call of love conquers the call of the church". Soon the son does enter the church - to wed. A year later: the old man rejects his son. The wife shows the baby. The old man gives them his blessing. The blocking of the actors, often in triangles, is simple and effective. The visual quality of the print is on the soft side.

THE THIEF'S WIFE. US 1912. D: Allan Dwan. 14'. C: J. Warren Kerrigan (lo sceriffo), Pauline Bush (la moglie del ladro), Jack Richardson (il ladro). PC: American Film Manufacturing Company. Premiere: 18 novembre 1912. 35 mm. 290 m. 14' a 18 f/s. B&w. English intertitles. Da: Library of Congress. - AA: There is psychological complexity and intensity in the characters, especially in the wife, who in the beginning discovers that her husband is a thief. The composition in depth is sophisticated, and the blocking of the actors is dynamic. The composition is interesting in each shot. One can get a pretty good idea of the visual quality from this print. *

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